The Myth of Certainty | Reflections & Notes

Posted on January 9, 2019

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Daniel Taylor. The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian & The Risk of Commitment. InterVarsity Press, 1992. (158 pages)

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REFLECTIONS

There is no other book I’ve read that has captured my spiritual journey and process as clearly as this one. I have long eschewed perennially identifying with titles such as “Evangelical,” “Christian,” or even “Spiritual.” But the word “Reflective,” as Taylor uses and defines it (with or without the second word “Christian”), is the most agreeable term so far that comes close to resonating with my soul. Being “Reflective” is to ask questions, to be in pursuit of truth, to consider carefully the deepest realities of the universe, in addition to surrounding one’s self with meaning and purpose, and to widen the embrace of what and how we can belief, trust, and have faith in this world. It is to be unafraid of the answers, and even of unbelief. It is to rise and fall with the honest doubts and sincere experiences that come with holding reverence and skepticism in the same hand. It is to have convictions without certainty, faith without dogma, and thinking without defensiveness. AND it is also to be lonely, to be perceived as a threat, to be labelled, castigated, and sometimes outrightly condemned. All of this I have experienced.

So, to my current community, whom I cherish, esteem, and value so much, I extend yet again, my deep gratitude for accepting my “reflectiveness,” and even counting it a gift to our navigation of this world as followers of Jesus.


NOTES

Introduction

What are you doing, you man, with the word of God upon your lips? Upon what grounds do you assume the role of mediator between heaven and earth? Who has authorized you to take your place there and to generate religious feeling? – Karl Barth

It’s not the prospect of failure that is frightening. What, God forbid, if one should succeed? Imagine a dozen people believing whatever you tell them to believe; imagine a thousand, ten thousand, a countless following. How many times in the wilderness did Moses wonder if that burning bush had just been desert heatstroke? (9)

My direct concern is for those people who, like Pascal, have been unable to attach themselves to the world’s “pleasing objects.” They have found in God, and in Jesus Christ, a proposed solution to the human dilemma to which they have made, with varying degrees of confidence, a commitment. At the same time they have been blessed and cursed with minds that never rest. They are dissatisfied with superficial answers to difficult questions, willing to defend faith, but not its misuse. (11)

| Furthermore, these people find themselves in the church, members of a Christian subculture into which they were either born or later entered. Their relationship to this subculture is complex, and only partly conscious, and they are both indebted to it and victimized by it. At the same time, they are often part of, or heavily influenced by, another subculture which is basically indifferent or hostile to their Christian commitment. This is the secular, intellectual world that deals in the manufacture and propagation of ideas. (11)

| In writing to and for reflective Christians in these two subcultures, I am writing for myself, for this is where I spend my life. The problems addressed are, in many cases, ones I have or have had. Any advice given, I give myself, though I do not always heed it. My desire is to be of help, to make faith more possible not less, to lighten a burden not to increase it, to write from the standpoint of faith but with open eyes and heart. I wish to talk with others who are also seeking signs of God in this world and desiring to act on what they have found. The false leads and illusions are many; the church is both part of the problem and part of the cure, but the goal is worth risking a life on. (11)

1. The Nature of Reflection

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And I pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself
I too much discuss
Too much explain

– T.S. Eliot

The term reflective Christian brings to mind a knot of related but quite different images. The first is very positive, evoking the simple wonder that among the things it means to be created in God’s image is the ability to carry on a mental dialogue with reality–that is, to think. (15)

| It evokes also, in this regard, that long tradition of people of faith who have valued and participate din the life of the mind and who have brought their God-given intelligence and imagination to bear on the society in which they have lived. (15)

But there is also a more troublesome aspect to being reflective. Thinking, as many have discovered, can be dangerous. It can get us in trouble–with others, but also with ourselves. And the suspicion lingers in religious circles that it can also, if we are not very careful, get us in trouble with God. (16)

| It is on these different notions of the term reflective Christian that I wish to focus. What are the perils and opportunities of being a thinking Christian in the late twentieth century? How does one survive as a thinker in the church and as a believer in the larger world? And can one do any more than “survive”; can one be the arms and eyes and voice of God to our society in the same way that earlier reflective Christians were to theirs? (16)

A DISCUSSION OF TERMS

The reflective person is, first and foremost, a question asker–one who finds in every experience and assertion something that requires further investigation. He or she is a stone-turner, attracted to the creepy-crawly things that live under rocks and behind human pronouncements. (16)

True reflection leads one, like the writer of Ecclesiastes toward ultimate questions. (16)

Reflectiveness should not be confused with the amassing of information, nor with intelligence. Many with great stores of knowledge, intellect, and unquestionable expertise are not particularly reflective. (17)

The life of a reflective person is more likely to be interesting, less likely to be serene; more likely to be marked by the pursuit of answers, less by the finding of them. The result is a high potential for creativity, curiosity, and discovery, but also for paralyzing ambivalence, alienation, and melancholy. (18)

Reflection in this sense int he nearest human realization of perpetual motion. It is insatiable. It is hostile to the notion of conclusion. The questioning mind is a dictator satisfied with nothing less than a thousand-year reign. Why should it stop? Why relinquish its hold? It is inherent int he very nature of reflection to resist limitation. The more one tries to restrict it, the more power one gives it; for reflection is suspicious of nothing os much as attempts to quell it. It may lie low for a time, but will blaze back all the fiercer for having been suppressed. (19)

No dripping faucet was ever as maddening as the steady beat of a mind going in circles, chained to a problem which admitted neither solution or capitulation. (20)

SUBCULTURES AND THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BELIEF

No, an illusion can never be destroyed directly, and only by indirect means can it be radically removed. If it is an illusion that all are Christians—and if there is anything to be done about it, it must be done indirectly, not by one who vociferously proclaims himself an extraordinary Christian, but by one who, better instructed, is ready to declare that he is not a Christian at all…

If then, according to our assumption, the greater number of people in Christendom only imagine themselves to be Christians, in what categories do they live? They live in esthetic, or, at the most, in esthetic-ethical categories… There is nothing that requires such gentle handling as an illusion, if one wishes to dispel it. If anyone prompts the prospective captive to set his will in opposition, all is lost. And this is what a direct attack achieves, and it implies moreover the presumption of requiring a man to make to another person, or in his presence, an admission which he can make most profitably to himself privately. This is what is achieved by the indirect method, which, loving and serving the truth, arranges everything dialectically for the prospective captive, and then shyly withdraws (for love is always shy), so as not to witness the admission which he makes to himself alone before God—that he has lived hitherto in an illusion.

– Søren Kierkegaard, The Point of View of My Work As an Author, p. 24ff.

Given the nature of belief, it is no wonder that the reflective Christian will attract the displeasure of any subculture in which he or she is perceived as a threat to the ruling orthodoxy. (26)

Why all this on the psychology of belief? Because it helps to discover you may not be crazy. If you get out of step in a subculture you are often subtly made to feel if not crazy, then guilty, or stupid, or anything else that will pressure you back into the pack. (26)

…often reflective people are out of step because they sense that something is not right. They may be confused themselves, but they should be listened to. God has often used those with troubled heart to speak to their society and to call His people closer to Himself. (26)

2. The Reflective Christian and the Church

Men  never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction. – Blaise Pascal

People are leaving the churches and returning to God. – Lenny Bruce

Preserving the faith is central to God’s plan for human history; preserving particular religious institutions is not. Do not expect those who run the institutions to be sensitive to the difference. (30)

Institutions express their power most clearly by enunciating, interpreting, and enforcing the rules of the subculture. (30)

* * * * *

The danger toward which the appropriate exercise of authority always tends is authoritarianism–the exercise of authority for its own sake and to ensure its own perpetuation. The great weapon of authoritarianism, secular or religious, is legalism: the manufacturing and manipulation of r rules for the purpose of illegitimate control. Perhaps the most damaging of all the (34) perversions of God’s will and Christ’s work, legalism clings to law at the expense of grace, to the letter in place of the spirit. (35)

| Legalism is one more expression of the human compulsion for security. (35)

In environments tainted with authoritarianism, every question creates a mini-crisis. (36)

Ultimately, unanimity is impossible. It is brittle where unity is flexible and therefore strong. A single dissenter destroys it (so the dissenter may have to be dealt with harshly for the good of the group). For this reason, real questions are generally discouraged. Phony questions, however, where the answer is known by all, are part of a pleasurable ritual. They are asked and answered in a wonderful, nonthreatening confirmation of “group think.” … The Christian movie allows twenty minutes or so of rebellion and “questioning God” on (36) the part of its young protagonist, to be followed, as surely as day follows night, by twenty minutes of finding’s the way back to God and a happy ending. The audience has the thrill of the chase with none of the threat, and goes away satisfied. (37)

| The reflective Christian not only wants to ask real questions, with a sense that something is at stake, he or she also wants to broaden the range of allowable evidence in this trial of what one can believe and live for. (37)

* * * * *

…not only is Christendom not synonymous with a life in Christ, following Christ may well require rejecting parts of Christendom. … The reflective Christian should be sensitive to the difference as well, affirming and committing himself or herself to those parts of a Christian subculture which honestly attempt to do God’s work, while staying free, as much as possible, from the inevitable distortions that abound wherever human beings are found. (43)

Leaving the church entirely is rarely the answer. Tragically, the illusions and misconceptions of the Christian subculture often drive the wounded into illusions and misconceptions of a different kind. They substitute one inadequate conception of the world for another, losing in the process that core relationship to God which redeems all our errors. (44)

3. The Reflective Christian in the Secular World of Ideas

Discovering the Church is apt to be a slow procedure but it can only take place if you have a free mind and no vested interest in disbelief. – Flannery O’Connor

No one is so terribly deceived as he who does not himself suspect it. – Søren Kierkegaard

Happy is the man who is not scandalized by me. – Jesus Christ

This is how it should be. Christians should be getting dirt under their fingernails in almost every area of interest to human beings. (46)

Conservative Christians have too long been paranoid about the world just beyond our noses. Much of the defensiveness and anger that we direct toward the “secularists” spring more from insecurity and fear than from informed righteousness. The so-called secular world is sometimes not nearly so much a threat to God and His ways, as it is to us and our ways. (46)

One of the myths of secular orthodoxy to which I have already alluded is that the secular, intellectual community (49) relies primarily on reasoned analysis of evidence while religious faith is mere wishing or an uncritical clinging to tradition. The secularist often appeals to reason as though it were some transcendent, immutable faculty to which all thinking people have access and which can be employed at will to separate truth from error. (50)

| This common view fails to distinguish between logic–which is a tightly defined, highly controlled use of precise rules of reasoning and which has an important but limited area of application in the human experience–and the whole mental process of generating beliefs, opinions, points of view, and daily explanations of our experience in the world. The latter is what is going on 95 percent of the time when people, including intellectuals, use words like reason, or thinking, and it is far from a pure and predictable process. (50)

| Rather than a food processor which slices, dices, and purees reality at the operator’s command, giving everyone who uses it correctly similar results, reason in this second sense is more like Saturday’s soup made out of the week’s leftovers. It is like Saturday’s soup made out of the week’s leftovers. It is the nice neat name we give to a mishmash of interrelated forces which includes personality traits and idiosyncrasies, prejudice, emotions, intellectual fads, felt needs, cultural conditioning, and, at times, indigestion. The soup never tastes the same twice in a row. To imply that this process arrives at something greatly more certain and trustworthy than religious faith is simply naive. (50)

| Related to this is the myth of objectivity. Objectivity supposedly flows from the unbiased use of this universal instrument called reason. (50)

But in the broil of (50) the wider human enterprise, in deciding what is good and true and beautiful and worth living for in this world, there is so much sheer humanness at work (and there should be), that the claim of cool, rational objectivity is almost laughable. Only objects are truly objective. (51)

| I am not arguing that reason is useless, only that the secular world cannot rightfully claim superiority or intimidate the person of faith based on its use. The Christian not only can use reason as well as the secularist, he or she is more likely to be properly aware of its limitations. (51)

[via: How?]

* * * * *

The Christian who is inclined and equipped should make the greatest contribution possible to the wide range of human activities. We should be the first to do any good things, not the ones dragged reluctantly into the modern world. We also should expect to learn much of value from nonbelievers in the process. They too, it is rumored, are made in the image of God. (54)

The end product of ignorance plus confidence is smugness, and both subcultures are bountifully supplied. Each feels it holds the high ground–the Christians morally, the secularists (55) both morally and intellectually. (56)

* * * * *

I feel both the claims of faith, nor I have tasted transcendence, and the logic of pluralism, for does not my own mind itself generate many ways of seeing and thinking? (60)

| But each group is impatient with the recalcitrant who wants to retain parts of both worlds. (60)

4. The Search for Truth and Certainty

Seeing too much to deny and too little to be sure, I am in a state to be pitied. – Blaise Pascal

It would seem very strange that Christianity should have come into the world just to receive an explanation. – Søren Kierkegaard

The reasoning process does not first serve truth, but rather the needs of the person exercising it. It is the genie in the bottle, willing to do whatever its master bids–and, like the genie, not caring particularly who the master is. Do you have a position and, more importantly, a sense of security that needs defending? Call on reason and it will generate defenses ad infinitum. Have you changed your position? Nothing to worry about, the reasoning process is infinitely adaptable. (69)

| But what of evidence? Isn’t it objective, something fixed that limits the fickleness of reasoning? Not significantly. All evidence requires interpretation. Nothing “out there” is evidence until it has been brought “in here,” into my argument, to be used as I see fit. In politics, religion, family relations, and every other human endeavor, opposing sides use the same evidence to defend contradictory positions. (69)

If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we…:

Regrettably, the question is easily answered. Putting someone on the moon is almost infinitely easier than solving any problem involving the nature of human beings. Human nature is much further beyond our understanding and control than physical nature. (70)

There is no more spurious use of reason than to suggest that reason demonstrates that faith in God is irrational. It simply is not so, and anyone who argues such does not understand the nature of reason or faith. They are also wrong, however, who claim that reason and evidence prove the existence of God. God is not reducible to proof and only our weakness makes us wish it were so. (70)

| It is my experience that, for all its usefulness in many areas, the closer one gets to the nexus where the eternal and temporal intersect, the less reason operates effectively as the primary instrument of judgment. In fact, reason recedes in importance in most of the truly critical areas of the human experience, (70) largely because there are forces at work with which reason is not adequate to deal. (71)

Making reason the primary arbiter in matters of faith ignores both the nature of the message (which is a person and a relationship, not an argument) and the nature of the recipient (who is also a person, not a computer). (71)

* * * * *

The goal of both reason and faith, as we have seen, is truth, a universal virtue sought by all in one way or another and by no one more than the reflective Christian. Both by temperament and conviction, reflective Christians are truth-seekers. They pursue it passionately; they grieve over its elusiveness. (78)

Ironically, the insistence on certainty destroys its very possibility. The demand for certainty inevitably creates its opposite–doubt. Doubt derives its greatest strength from those who fear it most. (80)

Normally doubt is seen as sapping faith’s strength. Why not the reverse? Where there is doubt, faith has its reason for being. Clearly faith is not needed where certainty supposedly exists, but only in situations where doubt is possible, even present. (81)

Doubt makes its claims, even daily, and they are respected, but they do not determine the character of my life. (81)

* * * * *

What then of the “absolute” which form the foundation for a popular kind of Christian apologetic? Might not absolutes be an avenue to certainty and freedom from doubt? (90)

But what are we to make of this concept of absolutes as the basis for belief and commitment? In one form or another, every Christian has asked, “How can I know for sure? Do I dare to base my only life on this?” Do absolutes provide the answer to these questions? Can the demon of doubt be crushed once and for all? (91)

| With typical reflective decisiveness, my answer is no–and yes. (91)

The idea of knowing absolutes has a very limited meaning at best when it is human beings who are the supposed knowers. Absolutes, by definition, partake of infinity; they are without boundary. What relationships can a finite knower have with an infinite object of knowledge except a finite, limited one? Can one then be said to know or “have” an absolute on which to ground one’s belief when one only knows, at best, a sliver of that absolute? (91)

…how would we know unmistakably that anything was finite or absolute unless we ourselves were infinite? (92)

…a doctrine of absolutes offers little for raising the level of certainty or eradicating the specter of doubt for the reflective Christian. Does this mean the radical pluralist is right? Not necessarily. My inability to know any absolute absolutely does not prove such things do not exist, only that my limited knowledge of them is not grounds for certainty. (92)

| It is equally unjustifiable to proclaim God unknowable. There is a vast difference between saying our knowledge of God is always partial, flawed, slanted by personal and cultural idiosyncrasies, and asserting there is nothing beyond ourselves even to know. The reflective Christian must steer between unfounded claims of certainty on the one hand and an equally spurious absolutizing of relativism on the other. (92)

While certainty is beyond our reach, meaning–something far more valuable–is not. Meaning derives from a right relationship with God, based not on certainty and conformity, but on risk and commitment. (94)

5. The Risk of Commitment

We must know where to doubt, where to feel certain, where to submit. He who does not do so, understands not the force of reason. – Blaise Pascal

The highest of all is not to understand the highest but to act upon it. – Søren Kierkegaard

The noncommittal have no right to ask any questions – Helmut Thielick

No significant area of life is free from risk. … Should we expect it to be any different in our relationship with transcendence? Why should we insist on being certain about God, on having proof of His existence, or on having unmistakable absolutes on which to build a faith when none of these is compatible with being the finite creatures God has created? (96)

| If risk is an inescapable part of the daily life of the business man or woman, the politician, the farmer, the artist, if it is at the heart of all meaningful relationships between people, then we should not be chagrined or embarrassed to find it also at the heart of a relationship with God. Believers have always been risk-takers. (96)

Faith is a quality and a choice consistent with the riskiness of the human condition. (98)

Surely this is the cry of Pascal, who simultaneously sees too much of God in the world to deny Him but too little to be sure beyond a doubt. One option is surrender to the paralyzing ambivalence of cautious uncertainty; another is to use uncertainty itself as a stepping stone to the risk of commitment. (98)

Is Kierkegaard correct, then, then he says that reflection is usually the death of passion? Where is the balance point between necessary and realistic awareness of complexity on the one hand and hiding behind diversity, pluralism, and relativism as an excuse for moral passivity on the other? When does healthy reflection become cowardly vacillation? These questions are crucial for our whole society, and the answers to them will determine our future. (99)

Specifically, how can I honestly commit myself to God and His purposes in the day to day reality of human life without denying the complexity, uncertainty, and diversity that my experiences and reflection suggest to me. (99)

There are certain things, however, that in my personal synthesis of faith make commitment possible for me. Three of these are the use of memorythe experience of community, and the exercise of perseverance. (100)

MEMORY

Lapses of memory are at the heart of Israel’s problems in the Old Testament. The prophets act as the memory of the people, reminding them of the crucial link between the past and the future, between memory and prophecy. Faith derives from a relationship, not a set of beliefs, and the proper use of memory reminds that God has been trustworthy. (102)

And when faith is too hard, when calculating reason is too insistent, when the contempt of the world (whether within the church or without) is too bitter to bear, then I will call to memory those who were stoned, sawn in two, and made destitute for the sake of faith. Ten my burden will be shamefully light, even laughable, and my knees will be strengthened. (104)

| And I am comforted in knowing that the people of faith…were human beings, that they struggled, that they sometimes failed–which is to say that they were something like me. (104)

Why not simply recall these experiences as moments when the transcendent world intersected my transient one? Why not risk belief instead of unbelief? Both are risks and neither yields to the test tube. (106)

There is a shorthand name we give to all our memories–tradition. … Tradition is not primarily a set of creeds or theologies, though these are included, but a history of persons and communities and relationships. And when I see faith in terms of the struggle of people, alone and together, to know and be known by God, then I do not object to the risk that is the price for being part of that struggle. (107)

COMMUNITY

Creating a pantheon of spiritual heroes is easily done, perhaps because I do not have to actually live with any of these people in their full humanity. … Living in community with Christians can be simultaneously a foundation for faith and a sore trial of that faith. (107)

Today: feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. During a dialogue homily, two of the monks remarked in different ways that although Thomas did not believe in the resurrection of the Lord, he kept faithful to the community of the apostles. In that community the Lord appeared to him and strengthened his faith. I find this a very profound and consoling thought. In times of doubt or unbelief, the community can “carry you along,” so to speak; it can even offer on your behalf what you yourself overlook, and can be the context in which you may recognize the Lord again. – Henri Nouwen

The community of believers is the “context” within which most of us will “recognize the Lord.” Few things are as desirable as being part of such a community when it is working as God designed it. Even when it is something less, however, the Christian cannot escape the corporateness of faith. We did not ourselves inaugurate faith in God, and we do well to maximize the benefits that derive from shared commitment. (111)

Just as we are chosen by and choose God, so we choose and are chosen in uniting our lives with fellow believers. We share the joy, we share the doubt, we share the risk. We also share our warts and weaknesses. … I know very well how short the church falls in living up to its high calling, but I have also tasted enough of the supernatural power that is available (111) to Christians working out their salvations together to know that somewhere about here God is to be found. (112)

PERSERVERANCE

Faith can be simultaneously incredibly strong and painfully fragile. Doctrines of eternal security notwithstanding, the choice to discontinue the whole experiment of seeking God is always present–as is the choice to begin, or to begin once more. These choices are sometimes made consciously, often by default. We tire of the struggle of faith as an athlete tires in a contest or a soldier grows weary in battle. (112)

We do not choose between a life of difficulty and a life of ease. We simply choose for what purpose we will work, sometimes suffer, and hopefully endure. (113)

[via: cf. Man’s Search For Meaning]

I am keenly aware that humankind is born to trouble. It is painfully clear to me that I do not have absolute certainty that anything I believe is true. My reason is inadequate in these things to guide me to a sure conclusion; my emotions often fail me (not infrequently by by their absence). But I will remember that others have endured this situation before me. I will call to mind their testimony and my own of encounters with God. Memory. I will seek out the fellowship of others who likewise struggle. I will forgive them their trespasses as they forgive mine. Community. I will seek to run the race with endurance, to fare forward (113) when forces without and within counsel abandonment. Perseverance. (114)

* * * * *

Not only should we risk commitment despite uncertainty, I would argue we must choose commitment precisely because of uncertainty. The precariousness of life is all the more reason to risk acting in faith. Life is no less risky for the secularist; the ultimate goal is simply much less. Pascal saw his faith as an intelligent wager. The secularist is also wagering, only with far more disastrous consequences if wrong. (121)

[via: eh… This last line was a bit perplexing for me (given that I really appreciate virtually everything else Taylor is saying), as it assumes Pascal’s Wager to be right, and specifically right about the afterlife. In addition, many have become secular specifically because they have considered the wager, and found the metaphysical to be weak and unsatisfying.]

| Faith, however, is not a matter of rolling the dice. It is, or can be, a conscious expression of a great gift–human freedom. …Barth says freedom rightly understood is not primarily freedom from something, the popular notion springing from the desire to shed responsibility, “but freedom to and for,” a release to choice and action. And the greatest exercise of that freedom, Kierkegaard affirms, is to choose God, to choose commitment and responsibility, to a acknowledge individually and in community with others the obedience to God which an appropriate use of freedom suggests. (121)

| Through commitment, truth becomes a lived reality rather (121) than an abstraction. As it resides in a set of creeds, or a code of ethics, or a political or philosophical manifesto, or even a passage of Scripture, truth is a kind of potential energy, latent but unrealized. Only as it is manifested in the particularity of my life, giving shape to my relationships, thoughts, and acts, does truth become more than the battered plaything of competing world views. (122)

Given the nature of our world, personal neutrality is evil. … The antidote to neutrality, as to cynicism, is commitment, and the key to commitment is the exercise of the will. (123)

| The human will–so powerful, so tenacious, so weak, so early paralyzed. Reflective people especially often suffer from overdeveloped analytic abilities and underdeveloped wills. Kierkegaard observed that “a habit of vacillation is the absolute ruin of every spiritual relationship” and that it is “not so much a question of choosing between willing the good or the evil, as of choosing to will…” at all. (123)

The goal of faith is not to create a set of immutable, rationalized, precisely defined and defendable beliefs to preserve forever. It is to recover a relationship with GOd. He offers us a persona and a relationship; we want rules and a format. He offers us security through risk; we want safety through certainty. He offers us unity and community; we want unanimity (123) and institutions. (124)

Faith in God, then, is not a belief system to defend but a life to live out (though systematic thinking about our beliefs can help us decide how to live). (1224)

As a belief system, the Christian religion is subject to the many ills of all belief systems; as an encounter with God, it transforms individual lives and human history. God does not give us primarily a belief system; he gives us Himself, most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ, so that truth and meaning can be ours through a commitment to that love with which He first loved us. The risk is great, bu the reward is infinite. (124)

6. Surviving as a Reflective Christian

The spiritual man differs…in being able to endure isolation. – Søren Kierkegaard

We are worthy of being believed only as we [are] aware of our unworthiness. – Karl Barth

Do not be excessively righteous, and do not be overly wise. – Ecclesiastes 7:16

Nothing should be of higher value to the reflective Christian in difficult circumstances than an unqualified desire to see truth triumph. (126)

Humility is not synonymous with passivity or indecisiveness. One can hold beliefs passionately yet with humility. (127)

Humility helps us avoid confusing defense of the truth with the defense of self. (127)

Be honest with yourself and others. If the church is often ridiculous, all the more reason you and I should contribute to its rehabilitation by living correctly before God. (28)

Christ, on the other hand, repeatedly modeled truth as relationship, as part of lived experience. (129)

If we have a love both of truth and of people, we will develop a resistance to knee-jerk responses to particular labels or terminology. A favorite tactic in both subcultures is to forestall thinking by building conditioned responses into a variety of terms so as to evoke immediate, unreflective condemnation or praise. (131)

How sad to have one’s eternal relationship with God threatened by ways of thinking which may not even last a decade, much less a generation. (133)

What kept me a sceptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t bit on this, get a wider picture, continue to read. – Flannery O’Connor

Be at least as skeptical of the world of doubting as it is of the world of faith, not out of fear for faith but out of regard for truth. (135)

[via: So, this statement seemed to push just a little to far for me, for the scientific method demands a kind of trust in the process of doubting in the pursuit of truth. In other words, it is possible that this kind of “Lewisian” logic (“to doubt your doubts as much as you doubt your faith”) can collapse into the same kind of fundamentalism that the pursuit of truth is attempting to upend, the same kind of pursuit of truth that Taylor is writing about.]

* * * * *

…the pressures on the reflective Christian will always be greater from within than without. (144)

I am willing to begin once more at the beginning, to rethink and rebelieve from square one, even knowing that this time I may end up not believing at all. God is not afraid or offended by this–He who heard a wail of desperate questioning even from his own Son. (144)

I have learned to live with the rise and fall of the thoughts and feelings of faith, to co-exist with honest doubt, to accept tension and paradox without clinging to it as an excuse for inaction. I have learned to be a minority without seeking to be an adversary. I am trying to do what people of faith have always done–respond to revelation by my own best lights, struggle to understand all that can be understood and have reverence for the rest, act beyond my certain knowledge in the faith that such action is blessed. “Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.” (145)

Epilogue | Something to Live and Die For

The movement of faith is unceasing, because no explanation it offers is ever finished. – Jacques Ellul

“Meaning” is the most stirring of all impulses. – Helmut Thielicke

The most important and desirable things in the human experience have no physical existence. One of these is “meaning.” (148)

If one has meaning in life, then any circumstance is bearable; if not, then none is. (148)

[via: This is Nietzsche’s “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”]

Having something to live and die for implies a life of action. (149)

Afterword

Many people enjoy solitude, but no healthy person enjoys isolation. It is no small thing to find that there are others in the world who share your experience. (151)

Conviction, yes. Certainty, no. (152)

In what sense do I claim that certainty is a myth? Only in two ways. It is a myth that certainty is required for faith and commitment. And it is a myth that certainty is something the secular intellectual has through reason while the person of faith has only wishing. There is one thing bout which I do feel certain. I feel certain that the commitment to faith is a risk worth taking. I am more interested in finding a ground for commitment than I am in emphasizing the lack of certainty. (153)

Put another way, while the life of faith will never be safe, it can be secure. Faith may lead us into all kinds of dangers–physical, intellectual, and spiritual–but it simultaneously gives that sense of meaning and purpose to life that is the groundwork of security. I do not expect to leave this life with all my doubts resolved; I do hope to leave it in good standing with Him from whom all meaning flows. (153)

[via: This book is really a salve to more liberal/progressive Christian expressions. First, is that true? Second, if it is, that in and of itself seems telling about the kinds of intellectual posture of each “side” (progressive/traditional, liberal/conservative). What would be the equivalent conservative/traditional “reflection?”]